Oscar season is well and truly drawing to a close and March is beginning to welcome in an entirely new movie epoch. But despite what a lot of people seem to think, this month isn’t just about the big blockbuster releases; I’m particularly looking forward to Ben Wheatley’s new movie, Free Fire, the incendiary revenge rape thriller, Elle and the upcoming horror movie on ‘benevolent racism’, Get Out (So all the cheery ones…!).
However, this March, we are seeing the release of several epic Blockbusters that probably wouldn’t have come out during the more nuanced Oscar run. The new Tom Hiddleston monster franchise, Kong Skull Island came out just last week, and this week we’ve seen the release of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. Often, movies such as these are accused of as being pre-packaged and formulaic in their attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible and exist simply to make money and act as a pillow for ‘risker’ movies to fall back on. Superhero movies are generally pointed to as being the worst culprits of this, and most recently, Suicide Squad, Batman Versus Superman Dawn of Justice and X-men Apocalypse have been largely viewed with disdain and a degree of cynicism.
Last week, I went to see the superhero movie, Logan. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the Marvel Comic movies and the tenth instalment in the X-men film series. It marks the 17th year that Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, but the publicity surrounding the movie suggests a sharp tonal shift from its predecessors. Hugh Jackman insists that had the studio vetoed this version of the movie, he would have renounced his involvement in it. I had heard it described as ‘No Country for X-men’ and was immediately intrigued– Why is a superhero movie being compared to the Cohen Brothers’ Nihilistic, minimalist thriller…?!
The dystopian film is set in a version of 2029 far removed from anything we can expect to experience anytime soon (Even post-Brexit…). We are immediately plunged into the dusty decrepit Arizona desert. The heat is intense and overbearing and the cinematography reminded me of that in Mad Max.
Mutants are on the brink of extinction; Wolverine is weakening, and the former leader of the X-Men, Charles (Patrick Stewart) is suffering from a neuro- degenerative disease and slowly losing his mind. Both men have certainly seen better days! I’m not sure I could call them super-heroes- there is nothing ‘super’ about these weary anti-heroes, who are clearly both nearing the end of their lives and the plot unfurls with a sense of foreboding fatalism.
Logan wants nothing more than to stop fighting and go and live out the rest of his life in peace on a boat. This is until he meets a little girl, Laura, whose powers suspiciously resemble his own… He unwittingly becomes a father figure for her and resolves to take her to a safer place, all the while being chased by supervillain Donald Pierce who wants to steal Laura and use her powers for his own evil ends.
In essence, the plot is pretty simple and follows a classic a cat/mouse chase structure in which the ‘baddies’ are very bad: our evil super-villain comes complete with a robotic hand and some bad ass sunglasses that he sporadically removes and replaces for dramatic effect.
In an unusually peaceful scene in the film, Laura tries to listen to a young boy’s music. As she inches closer and closer to his iPod, the villain’s inch closer and closer to our heroes and we hear Raury’s lyrics’ blaring out of the headphones ‘you better run, run from the devil!’. Clearly, subtlety is beside the point and these sorts of moments simply add another loop to this roller coaster- the movie is a lot of fun!
And actually, the predictability of the plot and the straightforward good/evil dichotomy allows us the opportunity to really focus on the three main characters who make for a very strange assortment! Logan must learn, not only how to be a father, but also how to care for his mutant 8-year-old daughter who is unaccustomed to the real world and uninhibited in her abilities to wreak total havoc. Laura’s strength and effervescence sharply contrasts with Logan’s waning determination. It makes sense that the film is called ‘Logan’ rather than Wolverine as it focuses on the weaknesses of the man rather than the strengths of the superhero. This is especially evident in the scene in which Charles has a seizure causing everything to freeze. It takes Logan all his energy to dragoon his body up the stairs and into the hotel room. However, by the end of the scene, Laura is still full of energy and rage and able to scream as she fires a shot. She has the energy that her father now lacks; she is the new superhero of the movie!
Logan is far more reflective than most superhero movies. Although it is visceral and grim, it is about regret and the consequences of violence. Hugh Jackman describes it as ‘about the soldier who returns home from war and has to find peace’. The film’s director, James Mangold, called it a Western and you can see similarities to a Western throughout the film, this is overtly pointed in a scene in a hotel room in which the movie Shane plays on a television screen.
So, although quite a few recent superhero movies have been formulaic and predictable, Logan is not one of them. This is more of a post-super hero movie (I’m so sorry for using that phrase!) than a superhero movie; more of a western than an action. It is genre bending in a similar way to Deadpool. In my opinion, this is proof that any genre can surprise you and be innovative and inventive. I look forward to more superhero movies like this one!